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UNESCO Report on Global Press Freedom Presented at HSE

© Essentials/ iStock

The presentation of UNESCO's report ‘Global Trends in Freedom of Expression and Mass Media Development’ was held at the Higher School of Economics. It was an opportunity to discuss journalism and the growing gap between traditional regulators and modern consumers of media.

Reports on the global state of journalism and access to information have been published by UNESCO since 2014. The report in question examines the problem from four angles: freedom of journalism, pluralism, independence of the media and the safety of journalists.

UNESCO’s official representative, Marius Lukosiunas, who spoke at HSE, noted that serious changes have occurred in terms of global press freedom and the dissemination of information. On the one hand, the development of digital technologies has increased opportunities for people to access information in various countries. On the other hand, many governments try to regulate and restrict the activities of not only the traditional media, but also of Internet resources, blaming the need to ensure national security. In addition, tougher consequences are in place for defamation and for insulting the authorities or certain groups of people. Propaganda, which is replacing journalism, is also a serious problem, as is the new phenomenon of ‘fake news’.

The report also talks about increasing the media's dependence on state and corporate financing. This is partly because we have no choice, seeing as common business models used by print and television media are ineffective in the new digital age. According to the Dean of the Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design at the Higher School of Economics, Andrey Bystritskiy, we need to understand what the new information and communication environment will bring both to society and journalism.

Working as a journalist can still be very dangerous. According to the UNESCO report, in 2012-2016, 530 journalists were killed, and nine out of ten crimes against journalists are not properly investigated. Online threats have been added to physical violence as something that journalists can be subject to.

Mikhail Fedotov, Сhairman of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, also spoke at the event. He noted that, in Russia, there are a number of legislative norms that protect the rights of journalists. The issue is not how they are applied, rather, it is how they are not applied. There has been a restructuring of the media sphere. A newspaper on the Internet is not the same as a printed newspaper, even if it's the same publication. Attempts to regulate this new environment using traditional methods often don’t take into account the nature of the Internet as a global public forum. Hence, even blocking measures are becoming ineffective.

Associate Professor at the HSE’s Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design, Elena Sherstoboeva, noted that, if the current state of global press freedom does not change, the next UNESCO report will be dealing with global tendencies in the field of censorship rather than freedom of expression and media. She also believes that there are no ‘completely positive examples’ in the world on which we can base our approach, and the system of international laws and institutions that should protect freedom of speech has failed. However, this does not mean that it should be abandoned entirely: rather, a balance needs to be found between national and international norms.

Ilya Kiriya, Head of HSE School of Media, spoke about the phenomenon of Internet deglobalization, that is, attempts to impose restrictions on a federal level of jurisdiction. According to Professor Kiriya, new media is not just the mass media, but the ever-expanding ecosystem of various services. With the help of the media, we can now order a taxi, studying via the Internet, and buy food. There is a widespread ‘media-ization’. At the same time, the tools used to regulate the media have not changed, and these date back to the Catholic censorship in the 16th century (the imprimatur - permission to print, and the index – a register of prohibited books). As a result, we have two options – to either disconnect the entire Internet altogether, or to deal with a complete collapse of the system by making clumsy attempts to regulate its various parts.

The generational conflict is obvious, according to Anna Kachkayeva, Professor at the Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design at the Higher School of Economics. Those who understand the media environment of the future (messenger applications, the culture of user participation, etc.) belong to the younger generation. Those who come up with laws and introduce bureaucratic mechanisms to regulate the media are members of the older generation who do not understand this environment and are applying obsolete and therefore inappropriate methods.

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